Ethiopia’s federal government has declared a “unilateral ceasefire” in its war-torn Tigray region, state media reported, as rebel fighters entered the regional capital Mekelle, sparking celebrations on the streets.
The dramatic reversal for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed‘s forces signaled a turning point in the nearly eight-month-old conflict in Tigray that the UN says has pushed 350,000 people to the brink of famine.
The ceasefire announcement came as the rebel fighters, who have branded themselves the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF), marched into Mekelle, where residents danced as local officials fled the city.
The TDF launched a major offensive last week coinciding with Ethiopia’s highly anticipated national elections.
An interim government official told AFP on Monday that the TDF fighters had entered Mekelle.
“TDF has taken control of the city,” the official said. “The city is celebrating. Everybody is outside dancing.”
The official said Tigray’s Abiy-appointed interim government had earlier opted to leave their posts in Mekelle as TDF fighters closed in “on every side”.
A humanitarian official confirmed the interim government’s departure.
State-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate earlier reported that the head of Tigray’s interim administration had asked the federal government to declare a ceasefire.
“An unconditional, unilateral ceasefire has been declared starting from today, June 28,” read a statement published on Monday night by state media.
The ceasefire is to last until the end of the current “farming season” and is intended to facilitate agricultural production and aid distribution while allowing rebel fighters “to return to a peaceful road”.
There was no immediate reaction from the TDF to the federal government’s ceasefire declaration.
‘No military solution to the crisis’
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday that he had spoken with Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, and was “hopeful that an effective cessation of hostilities will take place”.
He called recent events in Tigray “extremely worrisome” saying they “demonstrate, once again, that there is no military solution to the crisis”.
The United States, Ireland, and Britain have called for an emergency UN Security Council public meeting concerning Ethiopia’s war-torn Tigray, diplomatic sources said.
Reports of massacres, sexual violence
Since the war in Tigray erupted last November, the West has yet to succeed in organizing a public session on Tigray, with many African countries, China, Russia, and other nations deeming the crisis an internal Ethiopian affair.
The war in Tigray began when Abiy sent troops in to oust the dissident regional leadership.
He said the move came in response to attacks by the regional ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), on federal army camps.
Abiy promised a swift victory, and federal troops took control of Mekelle in late November.
But intense fighting has persisted throughout the region amid mounting reports of massacres and widespread sexual violence.
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